Tech & Work

Recruit raw IT talent on a college campus

Successful IT recruiting requires more than the standard info sessions and phone interviews. These days, you need to get to know the sharpest candidates before they even graduate! Learn about IT pros who visit college campuses to find new hires.


Albert Reuther is in a lab seven days a week, completing performance-analysis studies and looking at how server performance could be improved using certain algorithms. He hopes to complete his dissertation on cache replacement policies for Internet proxy servers. He’ll graduate with a Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering from Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN, this summer.

Reuther shows incredible potential, and any high-tech company would love to recruit him. But Reuther doesn’t have to make appointments with recruiters—they come to him.

Several representatives from various companies gave Reuther their recruiting sales pitch during a recent workshop at Purdue called “Mobile Information Systems: Networking and Computing.” Engineers from major corporations attended the workshop to discuss student projects and the students' efforts to increase the performance of portable devices like cell phones and laptop computers. But the engineers and company representatives also had another agenda. They came to recruit potential employees.

Recruiting on campus
Today’s companies are finding that successful IT recruiting requires significant involvement of the technical staff in the entire recruiting cycle. It involves the usual info sessions, phone interviews, and plant trips. But to stay ahead of the competition, companies looking for IT talent also require something else: opportunities to meet students and faculty in informal settings, such as workshops and conferences. Attending such events can enhance recruiting efforts, regardless of the size of your organization.

One company representative with recruiting on his mind was Greg Cox, who works for Motorola . Attending campus conferences is part of Motorola’s year-round recruiting efforts. Throughout the year, Cox attends several events at Purdue, the University of Michigan, and the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. While on campus, he spends time meeting students at lunch and at poster sessions. Cox says events like the Purdue workshop are successful because they “allow students to talk one-on-one with technical people who can ask meaningful questions and give meaningful responses.”

He uses his trips to establish connections with students and faculty. “It allows us to ask faculty for recommendations when we have positions to fill,” Cox said. “Our rapport with Purdue's ECE [electrical and computer engineering] faculty allows us to get excellent recommendations.”

Build long-term relationships
Computer architect Allan Knies of Intel recently attended the Purdue workshop for the third time as a company representative. He’s also a Purdue grad.

“The workshops are a very good way for us to see students in a relaxed atmosphere," said Knies. The informal setting allows him to talk with students individually. It’s the start of a long-term recruiting strategy.

“Intel does a lot of formal recruiting all over the country. The workshop is slightly different. I’m there as a technical expert who just happens to be there building good contacts with students and keeping up with their research,” said Knies. “We might start following someone several years before they graduate. I see what their research is, and as they get closer to graduation, we see if there is a potential opportunity for us to hire them.”

The company representatives aren’t the only ones who see a benefit to using the workshop as a recruiting opportunity. Many students also use the experience to their advantage. Reuther spoke with IT managers and company executives from both small and large companies. “It was different in the sense that there wasn’t pressure. It was much more informal than when you go to a job fair or to formal interviews, where everyone knows the first priority is jobs. Here, the atmosphere was much more relaxed.”

Knies has some contact with the students and professors before he visits and continues to keep in touch long after the workshop is done. “You can’t just come onto campus one week and no one knows who you are and then expect to hire a lot of people or the best people, “ he explained. “What you really have to do is make a commitment to come back to the school over the course of several years.”

He says it’s also helpful for companies to send the same representatives back to the same campuses. “If someone else goes next year, and it’s not me, students won’t necessarily know who they are and remember them. Having some consistency in your recruiting really makes a difference.”

Making it work for you
If you are looking at attending more conferences and workshops as part of your recruitment strategies, Knies and Cox have several other suggestions:
  • Send technical people to talk to the students. Don't put a wall of non-technical people between students and open positions.
  • Reward those technical people who are good at recruiting other technical people into the organization. DON’T make it a side job, which people can easily ignore in order to get on with the "real job." Cox says organizations that don't reward technical people for their help in recruiting tend to have perpetual open positions.
  • Use the structure of the workshop or conference as a framework around which you can organize other events. Perhaps you can talk to classes; maybe you can talk to some students informally.
  • Consider joining organizations sponsored by universities. These organizations can provide connections to IT students and faculty.
  • Maintain a consistent presence, even in times when you are not hiring, in order to be able to recruit effectively when positions open up.

Deciding his fate
Reuther is still weighing his options. He has offers from a couple of top-name companies and has also been accepted to a business school in Europe. If he decides to go into the workplace after graduation, he believes his interaction with IT managers in settings like the Purdue workshop will influence his decision on where he works.

“It’s important to see that they are supportive of the research we are doing and interested that the academic research can truly impact their business,” said Reuther. “It shows they are not just interested in the final product…a graduating student, but also interested in developing [the students'] careers—and developing them before they are even graduated.”

Debbie Davis is a freelance writer based in Indianapolis. She has contributed to several Web sites and publications including Thehealthnetwork.com and Hoosier Health & Fitness. She has worked as a television producer at network affiliates in Cincinnati and Minneapolis.

The excitement of the start-up, dot-com world was touted as incredibly attractive to new college grads. Now that the NASDAQ is on a roller coaster ride, will the 20-something crowd gravitate toward another job category? What’s your prediction? Post a comment below or send us an e-mail.

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